Tuesday, March 15, 2011

NBA ref sues for defamation

NBA Ref Bill Spooner has filed a defamation action in federal court against the Associate Press and AP reporter Jon Krawczynski, based on a tweet that Krawczynski sent during a Timberwolves-Rockets game in January. Following a foul call on the Wolves, Wolves Coach Kurt Rambis disputed the call in a conversation with Spooner. According to the complaint, Spooner told Rambis he would review the call (on video) at halftime and get back to him about it. Rambis then said, "'that's fine, but how do I get those points back.'" Krawczynski later tweeted "Ref Bill Spooner told Rambis he'd "get it back" after a bad call. Then he made an even worse call on Rockets. That's NBA officiating folks." In the complaint, Spooner denies responding to Rambis' comment or to making any make-up call. The complaint asks for damages and an injunction ordering the removal of the tweet and/or a retraction.

The key will be Spooner's status as a public figure. He spends four paragraphs obviously designed to establish himself as a non-public figure. This is important, because it seems to me the most likely explanation for the whole thing is that Krawczynski misheard the conversation between Spooner and Rambis, then speculated that a subsequent bad call was a make-up call. Which would be negligent, but not reckless. But it seems to me that within the confines of a story or comment about a basketball game and the officiating at a game, a referee should be a public figure. So he would have to show recklessness by Krawczysnki in order to recover.

There are some other procedurally strange allegations in the complaint. For example, the last paragraph "reserves" the right to amend the complaint, which is entirely unnecessary because FRCP 15 does that on its own. It also uses really strange language in alleging personal jurisdiction over Krawczynski, which should have been easy, since he lives in the forum state and thus is suable in his domicile.